The United States is marking the end of the nearly twenty years of war in Afghanistan, part of the wider “War on Terror” which began after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Although there were those of us who opposed a military response at the time – I vividly recall our group standing near the perimeter of the traffic circle beside our church with signs against war and people driving by honking in agreement – the war began, followed later by the war in Iraq which took a lot of attention and resources away from Afghanistan, which is I think part of the reason the war there went on for twenty years.
I am saddened by so much loss of life, injury, and damage incurred, especially among civilians. I am grateful that many Afghans, especially ethnic minorities, women, and girls, were able to enjoy more freedom and access education, sports, and jobs due to the presence of the United States and allied forces. Unfortunately, many of those gains are being lost because the Afghan government was not strong enough to stand on its own. With the Taliban back in charge, many of the gains and protections for women and minorities have dissolved. I must admit to being perplexed with people who thought that the final withdrawal from Kabul was like the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. I am old enough to remember that, when the military evacuated from Saigon, they did not take Vietnamese civilian partners, translators, and related personnel and their families with them. They did not even try to evacuate the children of US service members who faced hardship because there were mixed race. Over a period of years, some of these former South Vietnamese allies were able to flee the country and re-settle in the United States but it was not because they were evacuated by the US. They made their own way to refugee camps or set out to escape by boat.
In contrast, the United States was able to evacuate over 65,000 Afghan civilians with thousands more evacuated by other countries. While this is by no means all the people who were in need of evacuation, it is much better than the situation in Vietnam in 1975. The US State Department is continuing to work at getting more people out of Afghanistan, as others work on getting people processed and re-settled in the US and other countries.
We will never know what might have happened if the United States had tried to deal with the aftermath of 9/11 through diplomatic rather than military means. Perhaps so much of the weight of response would not have fallen on Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden was thought to be hiding, and more on Saudi Arabia, whence fifteen of the nineteen hijackers came. None of the hijackers were Afghanis.
I don’t know what will become of Afghanistan. It has been a place of turmoil for centuries. I do hope that the money that has been previously used to make war will be re-allocated to peaceful purposes to help people and the planet survive and thrive.
We can hope.